CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Speaking in Charlotte on Sunday, Louis Farrakhan had this advice for President Barack Obama:
Mr. President, youve got to realize youre fighting for your presidential life, the leader of the Nation of Islam told an estimated gathering of 6,000 at Bojangles Coliseum. Youre fighting for your vision of the Democratic Party and the country.
In marking the 17th anniversary of his 1995 Million Man March on Washington, D.C., Farrakhan was scheduled to talk about the economy and a Muslim blueprint for ending need and want.
But with the Nov. 6 election three weeks away, the 79-year-old Muslim leader changed his mind, instead offering advice to the president and country, describing a United States still ruptured by race.
Then Farrakhan spent two hours hammering at racial some critics will call them racist themes.
To begin, the highly controversial Farrakhan accused Republicans of having overt racist motives in their opposition to Obama, the countrys first black president. He attacked a political process that he says is controlled by monied interests and wants to keep America white.
And while he claimed Obamas Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, had lied about his real positions on most major issues throughout the first presidential debate, he also criticized Obamas low-energy response.
He asked his listeners if they were disappointed in Obamas performance, and hundreds of hands rose throughout the coliseum.
Feels like your champion didnt show up for the fight, Farrakhan said. If you lose the first round or two, you go to your corner. Its called adjustment time. Every good fighter knows how to make an adjustment. You dont get lost.
He said he thinks Obama and his advisers worried about the president appearing like an angry black man. The reasoning: You cant go out there and beat up on a white man. Youre going to lose the white vote.
He then turned his comments back to the president.
You arent going to win any more white votes by being kind and gracious, he said. Be a little black.
Farrakhans injection of race into the presidential campaign comes as both parties trade accusations, direct and implied, of racist intent. Obama received 95 percent of the black vote in 2008, and more than 2 million blacks voted for the first time.
Some Democrats say Republican-led voter ID campaigns in several key states are aimed at holding down the black vote. Some conservatives say support for Obama by many African-American voters starts and ends with color. They say they oppose the president on philosophical, not racial, grounds.
Ron Christie, a black conservative who worked for President George W. Bush, told the Huffington Post that black people support Obama out of a straitjacket solidarity.
Farrakhan did nothing to dissuade that support, accusing the Republicans of using a strategy to defeat Obama so overtly hateful and racist in nature that it has polarized America on the basis of race.
The Nation of Islam minister has made a career out of such harsh rhetoric. He has been accused of fueling racial dissent, anti-Semitism and homophobia. He denied the accusations Sunday, saying he speaks truth as he sees it.
While saying that he loves my homosexual brothers and sisters, he said they are disobeying prohibitions set out in the Bible and the Quran. Now you want to change Gods ways so God doesnt know what hes doing.
He also addressed an audience largely absent from the event: white America.
What have I done that you could hate me so? he said.
He then answered his own question with harsh words that had the arena on its feet: You cant buy me, and you cant make me into your n-----.
Farrakhans audience was largely local but drew African-Americans from across the country old and young, Muslim and Christian, dark suits and elegant dresses, sweatshirts and jeans. Ticket prices ranged from $20 to $100. Security was tight, and male reporters were vigorously frisked.
He was backed on stage by family members, out-of-town African-American Muslim leaders and several of Charlottes prominent black religious and political figures, including NAACP President Kojo Nantambu, the Rev. Dwayne Walker, pastor of Little Rock AME Zion Church, and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake.
During his weekend visit, he spoke to students at Johnson C. Smith University and taught a leadership seminar at Walkers church. He said he had been treated well by the city, and Charlotte could be our second home.
Farrakhan, wearing a tan suit, showed no signs of his age (he turns 80 next May). His voice ranged from a rasp to a roar. He frequently pounded his podium, and while his topics veered from politics to race to international affairs, his words at times brought thunderous responses.
He said the U.S. war on terrorism had morphed into a war on Islam that had left the Middle East more unstable than ever. He also criticized Muslims who subjugate women. Educate your women, he said. Allah is not pleased.
He spoke of rising tide of diversity that America must embrace or you will die. But you wont take us down with you.